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ANC: Statement by Mahole Simon Mofokeng, African National Congress Chairperson of Sedibeng area, on the 50th anniversary of the Sharpeville Massacre (12/03/2010)

12th March 2010


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South Africa has made tremendous strides in 16 years of freedom and democracy. The changes brought by the new dispensation attained in 1994 did not come free and or on a silver platter. Our people paid dearly with their lives and many others, including Tata Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela and Comrade Oliver Reginald Tambo spent better part of their lives in prison and exile respectively.

As the 1950s drew to a close, there was a climate of deepening tension within South Africa. While many other African colonies were moving towards independence, the apartheid regime was showing itself to be more intransigent than ever. The government was threatening to ban the ANC, and apartheid cabinet ministers spoke of battering the ANC with "an ungloved fist". At the ANC's December 1959 annual conference, there was a unanimous vote to launch a massive, countrywide anti-pass campaign. The campaign would start on 31 March 1960 and culminate on 26 June with a great bonfire of passes. Planning began immediately, ANC organisers and officials toured the country, talking to branches about the campaign. Leaflets, stickers and posters were circulated and posted in buses and trains.


The PAC, fresh from the failure of its Status Campaign, found itself adrift. Reflecting back on that time, Comrade Mandela remembers a PAC that "appeared lost, they were a leadership in search of followers, and they had yet to initiate any action that put them on the political map." (Long Walk to Freedom, p.224)

It was in this context that the PAC suddenly announced that it, too, was launching an anti-pass campaign - but on 21 March, ten days before the launch of the ANC-led campaign. "No conference had been held by them to discuss the date, no organisational work of any significance had been undertaken. It was a blatant case of opportunism. Their actions were motivated more by a desire to eclipse the ANC than to defeat the enemy." (Long Walk to Freedom, p.225)


At the time, Duma Nokwe, in his capacity as Secretary General of the ANC, wrote to the PAC, warning that; "it is treacherous to the liberation movement to embark on a campaign which has not been properly prepared and which has no reasonable prospect of success."

Nevertheless, anxious to be "ahead" of the ANC, the PAC duly launched its campaign on March 21, 1960. On the morning of that day, Robert Sobukwe and his executive walked to the Orlando police station to turn themselves in for arrest. A paltry 200 in Soweto and the greater Johannesburg responded to the PAC call. No demonstrations at all took place in Durban, Port Elizabeth or East London. On the morning of 21 March 1960, several thousand peacefully surrounded the police station. The police force, without warning, opened fire on the crowd. 69 people, men, women and children, were killed, many of them shot in the back as they fled.

The massacre provoked an outrage, nationally and internationally. However, the PAC's national leaders were now all in jail, having offered themselves for arrest, with the slogan: "No bail, no defence, no fine". They had not planned beyond the first day of action. This deprived the PAC of any effective capacity to co-ordinate follow-up, protest action. It was left to the ANC and its Congress alliance partners who, recognising that Sharpeville was a national tragedy, announced a nationwide stay-at-home for 28 March. It was to be a day of mourning in protest against the police atrocities. Several hundred thousands, all over South Africa, observed the call.

As we commemorate 50 years of Sharpeville Massacre now our Human Rights Day we must strive to uphold and advance human rights of everybody. We must address the concerns of our people which if we continue to undermine or ignore them, we will be guilty of perpetuating the past experiences into the present. If we fail to take a stand and act against racism and xenophobic tendencies perpetrated against other fellow human beings, if we fail to examine and interrogate our beliefs, attitudes and values and to replace them with progressive ones - founded on the years of hard struggles and on forgiveness, goodwill and generosity of the spirit of South Africans personified in Madiba and other leaders when they were released from prison and returned from exile.

The blood of our people in Sharpeville and Langa contributed immensely in shaping South Africa today. Our country is an envy of International community with our constitution regarded amongst the best in the world as it respects and protects human rights and restores our human dignity.

The questions that we have not asked about Sharpeville and Langa, will serve to assist us in understanding the nature and magnitude of the community response to the Anti-Pass Campaign in Sharpeville and later on in Langa, and it will spell disaster if we continue to fail to ask ourselves and honestly answer the question:

Why did the community of a small township like Sharpeville, which at the time had less than two thousand households, as compared to Soweto and Alexandra townships, rose up in the manner that it did?

The answer to this question lies in the forced removals and many other apartheid laws. In 1935, the proclamation of the Group Areas Act brought about the first forced removals that led to communities being separated and divided according to the colour of their skin. In now Sedibeng (Vaal triangle) people of Indian origin were removed from Top Location and Evaton - the township which was flash bang on the bank of the Vaal River - to Roshnee, the Coloureds were removed to Rustervaal and the Africans were removed to Sharperville.

In 1959 the last and remaining African community in the Top Location was forcibly removed from their area to allow for the expansion of the Vereeniging town. The community was removed from a very lush and fertile area. We do not have to imagine the prospects of a township that has river frontage. We simply have to look at the price of properties that have access to the river. As is the case throughout the country, Africans have been moved far away from the rivers, dams as well as the beachfronts. Prices of land and houses in these areas cost an arm and a leg. The community of Top location, the area where the nascent and astute Comrade Adelaide Tambo was raised, went to Sharpeville without a whimper in the same manner that was experienced in District Six and Sophiatown.

When the call for the Anti-Pass Campaign was made, the community of Sharpeville, still smarting from the forced removals from Top location, with residual feelings of discontent, believing that they at last had an avenue to vent out their frustrations at the brutality and cruelty of the apartheid regime, rose up to be counted. The communities' young and old, fit and fickle, rich and poor, literate and illiterate, all shapes and sizes in all colours of blue and hue, stood up in one voice to say, "Enough is enough".

Following the forced removal, the pass laws were geared to control all people except the white communities from having freedom to move from one area to another without restrictions. In effect, it meant that people could only be in certain places at certain times. The pass laws stipulated where, when and for how long a person could remain in a certain area.

For a black person to remain in the urban area they needed to have Section 10 rights, which provided that:
The person had to have been born in that area and resided there since birth.
The person had to have provided labour for a continuous period of ten years in an agreed area for a specified employer, or lived continuously in such area for not less than ten years.
The person was a spouse or married, spinster or child under 18 years of age of an African person, falling under the two categories listed above.
The Labour Bureau only granted the person the permit to stay in the area.
The aftermath of Sharpeville led to the banning of the ANC, PAC and other political organisations. Our movement, the ANC, went underground and the time for petitioning apartheid regime and the British Empire was debunked. The time for serious engagement with the enemy ripened and the beginning of the epoch of the armed struggle was upon us.

With the ANC then an "illegal" organisation all avenues for the engagement with the dreaded apartheid system were closed. The time for the change had arrived. The brutality that was visited on the community of Sharpeville by the police and the army gave an indication that the minority regime was prepared and ready to unleash everything in its power to protect its position. It took sacrifices of the communities of a small township and the loss of lives on that fateful day to bring the world awareness of the evil and brutality attached to the preservation of white minority privilege in South Africa.

With the unbanning of the ANC, the negotiation leading us to one of the best constitutions in the world and the watershed elections in 1994, the stage was set for the birth of the Rainbow Nation of South Africa. State President Nelson Mandela, the father of the Rainbow Nation, on the occasion of the signing of the Constitution, declared Sedibeng District Municipality "The Cradle of Human Rights Struggles of South Africa" in recognition of the role played by the communities of Sedibeng in bringing about change in our country.

During this seminal year for South Africa, the year in which our country will be hosting the greatest sporting spectacle, the 2010 Soccer World Cup, Sharpeville will be commemorating the Jubilee occasion of the shooting at the police station on the 21st March 2010. This commemoration comes during the 100 Days Countdown to the beginning of the 2010 Soccer World Cup.

The community of Sedibeng in general and Sharpeville in particular, will once again take to the streets to celebrate the triumph of the will of the people for the attainment of a non-sexist, non-racial and democratic Republic of South Africa. This celebration will be executed under the leadership of President Jacob Zuma. The community of Sedibeng, will be looking to the entire country to come and celebrate, enjoy and pray with us on that day. All roads lead to Sharpeville on the 21st March 2010.

In partnership with our communities, the Office of the Premier and the Gauteng Provincial Government we will pull all the stops, to make you welcome into the beautiful region we all call home.



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